Monday, December 22, 2014

Putting my best foot forward

This photo was taken last Sunday during our weekly rehab walk. Until recently, I couldn't ascend or descent stairs, even a short flight like this one. I still need a railing, though.

From the beginning of my rehabilitation, much of my physical therapy has come from simply trying to do things I always took for granted. When I started to grow sprouts, for instance, I found it difficult to do without carrying the sprouts and the water containers to sink with both hands, so I started to walking the few feet to the sink without my walker or cane. Now I do it all the time, although I look a bit like Frankenstein testing out his newly grafted legs when I do it. My right leg continues to be weaker than my left leg, though I'm strongly right-handed (and right-legged).

According to my neurologist, this weakness is due to my six-week coma, not the multiple strokes on both sides of my brain. It could've been caused by something as simple as the way I was a lying during the coma. At any rate, my right leg has gotten quite a bit stronger, though it still feels slightly numb. And when I walk on it unaided, I come down on it heavily. Though I walk much more smoothly with a cane, I suspect that the short stints of walking unsupported has helped my right leg. When I was in the nursing home, the leg felt like it was a solid block of ice. And yet, I was also experiencing extremely painful spasms in the foot. I started asking my loved ones to massage the foot, which usually helped but sometimes made the spasms worse. The foot was both sensitive and numb. I was given some medicines to reduce the spasms and pain. I was already taking one of them, and the second drug may have helped a little. Eventually, I bought some vibrating slippers, and they eased the pain quite a bit. My neurologist thinks this may be because they distracted the nerves.

I still use the slippers now, though less and less frequently. Mostly, I'm using them for comfort when I'm sleeping because they're soothing. But I don't really need them anymore. The spasms are finally gone.

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Coma Girl

Coma Girl

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In July of 2013, I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died. When I awoke from the coma, I could barely lift my head. It has been a hard road to recovery. The doctors advised my loved ones to give up all hope for my full recovery, but while they were shining lights in my eyes to gauge my level of consciousness, I was telling them grumpily to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep...in my coma-dream. I was experiencing covert cognition, and the coma-dream was my version of a near-death experience. I'm a skeptic, so I saw surreal images instead of spirits or dead loved ones. According to my research, as many as one in five people with consciousness disorders have covert cognition.

Not a miracle recovery, but a miracle of modern medicine

In 2013 I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died after I contracted legionella. The Legionnaire's disease was in turn triggered by immunosuppression caused by the prednisone I was taking for my rare autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis.

I suffered a series of strokes on both sides of my brain when the sepsis caused my blood pressure to plummet. I fell into a deep coma. My kidneys and lungs began to fail, as my body was began dying one organ at a time. My doctors told my loved ones to give up hope for my full recovery. They expected me to die, and even if I somehow lived, I would remain a vegetable or at best left so hopelessly brain-damaged that I would never be same. But unbeknownst to them, while they were shining lights in my eyes and shaking their heads, I was telling them in my coma-dream--my secular version of a near-death experience--to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep. I was experiencing what is known as covert cognition, the subject of my Skeptical Inquirer article "Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience," which appeared in their July/August issue.

But it wasn't a miracle--despite what so many continue to believe--that I recovered so fully. I owe my life not to God, but the miracles of modern medicine, as well as the nature of the watershed-area brain damage I suffered, as I detailed in my article and in this blog.